Saturday, 30 April 2011

Fantastic Four #98. The first men on the moon.

Fantastic Four #98, the Sentry returns, Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing
Just minutes to go before the next episode of Dr Who - the show made famous by my other blog - and, as that episode's seemingly built around the events of the first moon landing, what better time to look at a comic that was similarly inspired by Neil Armstrong's first step on that barren lump of rock?

Or is it barren?

If The Fantastic Four #98's to be believed, beneath that cratered surface lurks a menacing mass of something or other, just waiting to sabotage any attempt by man to set foot there.

Intercepting an alien message, Reed Richards quickly realises it must involve a plot by the Kree to wreck the upcoming moon shot. So, in a rerun of Fantastic Four #64, the FF - minus Sue who has to stay behind to mind the baby and help Alicia Masters look helpless and female - head for a mysterious island where they fight the Kree Sentry at the heart of it all. I'm still not sure if this is the same one they fought last time out or not. There're places where it seems it is and places where it seems it isn't. I suspect Jack Kirby intended it to be the same one and Stan Lee decided it couldn't be.

Fantastic Four #98, Neil Armstrong; One small step for a man...
Either way, thanks to the Thing, they soon clobber it and then, despite its strength-sapping ways, clobber the Sentry's underground moon-landing-sabotage-machine TM. The moon shot's saved and Neil Armstrong gets to plant boot on dust. Interestingly, while he fluffed his, "One small step for a man," speech in real life, in the world of Marvel Comics, he gets it right.

You do wonder how much attention the Kree have been paying over the years. By the time this tale was published, the Fantastic Four'd already been to the Andromeda Galaxy and - even more impressively - the home world of Kurrgo, Lord of Planet X. So I suppose you can question why the Kree thought it so vital to sabotage NASA's relatively modest efforts. You also wonder why the FF seem to have totally forgotten they themselves have been to the moon more times than I've been to my local supermarket. Judging by this issue's evidence, the Russians also seem to have forgotten that the Red Ghost and his apes've been there too.

There's really not a lot to the tale. As I said earlier, with its, "The Fantastic Four go to an island and fight a Sentry before the island blows up," plotline, it's a straight retread of issue #64 but with the interesting revelation of a long-forgotten alien race removed. I also wonder why there's great play made of the fact the Sentry's island's designed to resemble the surface of the moon, when no reason for this design strategy is ever given or even hinted at.

Fantastic Four #98, Jack Kirby, the Sentry and his mysterious island
Are they sure Jack Kirby was holding back?
Having said that, I do like the artwork. If the claims that have been made over the decades are true and, angry at Marvel's treatment of him, Jack Kirby was holding back in his last couple of years on the strip, it really doesn't show in his pencilling here, which is as obsessively detailed and dynamic as ever.

It's just the lack of new ideas, that disappoints, and the out-of-placeness of an issue dedicated to the real-life moon landing in a fictional world where space travel was commonplace. Given how exciting the first moon landing must've been at the time - and how heroic the crew must have seemed - I can understand why Kirby in particular would want to do his tribute but, in context of the comic, it really doesn't make much sense.

I also can't help wondering just what the Watcher made of having a menacing mass moving about under his home world.

But maybe he was too busy watching the moon landing on TV to notice.


Kid said...

I only have this story in a MARVEL MASTERWORKS volume, and when I saw the last two panels I thought they may have been re-lettered to include the corrected version of those famous words. That's because the lettering is clearly different from that which precedes it. Looking at your pictures from the actual comic however, I can see that it's exactly the same. That seems to suggest that the comic was probably prepared before or during the mission, and that it was scripted and lettered (with the exception of the last two panels) before Neil Armstrong uttered his immortal words, which were then added later.

Blaze Morgan said...

It was a jarring discontinuity when the comics shoehorned in current events of the real space program. As you say, the FF had skipped around space many times before July 20, 1969. Sometimes secretly, to be sure, but not so secretly that Washington and NASA would be unaware of it. Why would they bother? Or, why would they not use design elements from Reed Richards so the Marvel Neil Armstrong is leading two dozen astronaut scientists for a month long exploration of the moon?

A paltry few years later, SHIELD has a monstrous orbiting space station. Just for fun, their science jockeys have built a starship that only needs a power source to make it actually work. The Avengers borrow this to head off to the Kree-Skrull War, powered by Thor's hammer.

But, then, a couple years after that, we have the space shuttle Columbia roll out in comics with trumpets and fanfare.

Anonymous said...

It is not certain that Neil Armstrong fluffed the "one small step" speech. He later said that he did say, "one small step for a man," but that a technical glitch made the "a" inaudible. A 2006 audio analysis supported his claim.

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